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City keeps up pursuit of beach parking garage

A parking garage at Pelican Walk on Clearwater Beach is bound to lose money, at least to begin with, but city commissioners agreed Thursday to keep looking for a solution.

"It's time to sit back down and try to work these things out," said Mayor Brian Aungst. "Bring us back an offer we can't refuse."

The comments followed a lengthy discussion of a consultant's report showing the proposed 450-space garage on N Mandalay Avenue can't break even for at least a decade based on historical patterns and existing demand. Estimates for annual city subsidies range from $272,025 to $710,734.

But commissioners agreed a garage on the beach would spark development, and, in turn, create more demand.

On Thursday, Pelican Walk owner Louie Anastasopoulos pledged to continue negotiating on a plan to build the garage with the city's help.

But the clock is ticking.

For several years, city officials have considered buying Pelican Walk's lot for about $1-million, then building a public garage there. A previous commission promised to add 400 spaces on the beach by the time the new Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge opens next year.

Meanwhile, another agreement with developer David Mack is pending. Under the deal, the city stands to earn as much as $136,500 for completing the garage by Jan. 1, within 600 feet of Belle Harbor, Mack's 200-unit condominium project on N Mandalay. If the deadline passes, the figure drops sharply.

A study submitted this month by Chance Management Advisors Inc. in Philadelphia surprised city officials by contradicting a staff report in May that the $7.6-million project was financially feasible.

On Thursday, Commissioner Frank Hibbard supported a city subsidy, saying the city's job is to provide parking, to help businesses thrive. But he questioned whether Pelican Walk is the best location on North Beach, given the consultant's finding that beachgoers have cheaper and closer options.

Commissioner Hoyt Hamilton acknowledged the garage will be a last resort for beach parking, but pushed for the site as a boon for retailers.

"There's nowhere else you could put additional parking," he said.

Aungst predicted a garage at Pelican Walk would see business.

"If you build it and they have nowhere else to go, they will come," he said. "It's a very short walk to the beach from there."

_ Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160.

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